Turning Fans Into Performers – Dan Deacon and the Power of Youtility

Youtility Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype

This is a guest post from Jay Baer.

Today’s consumers are staring at an invitation avalanche, with every company asking for likes, follows, clicks and attention. This is on top of all the legacy advertising that envelops us like a straightjacket.

Lots of books have been written that tell you the way to break through is just to be an “amazing” company. Pretty much all of them say you can win hearts and minds by doing things differently, providing knock-your-socks-off customer service, or fundamentally changing your corporate culture.

But your company probably isn’t amazing. And becoming amazing is incredibly difficult, and doesn’t produce reliable, linear results. So instead of betting all your money on amazing, what if you just focused on being useful? What if you decided to inform, rather than promote?

If you sell something, you make a customer today; if you help someone, you can create a customer for life.

Marketing Sideways

I call this Youtility. Not utility because a utility is a faceless commodity. Youtility is marketing upside down.

Instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.

Youtility In Your Pocket

But Youtility isn’t all business, and Dan Deacon is proving it every night.

“For the first time, having your phone out at a concert is not a jerk move,” says the description of the official app for Dan Deacon, a Baltimore-based electronic musician known for his engaging live performances. The app turns concert-goers’ phones into a synchronized light show and even an extra instrument that Deacon can “play” from the stage. A short YouTube video demonstrates the app in action.


With the app installed and running on a smartphone, Deacon can control the devices en mass by playing audio tones that “instruct” the phones to flash, change color, make sounds and more. It’s quite a spectacle, and a surprise even to fans who have downloaded the app and ostensibly have an idea of what to expect.

“It’s a really cool moment when Dan first plays the tone and then all of the phones change color,” app co-creator Keith Lea says. “Usually people are a little shocked. They’re not really ready for it to work. People are used to their phones being magic, but this registers as a different sort of magic.”

The app has created significant industry chatter for Deacon and Lea, with articles in Rolling Stone, Billboard, SPIN, CMJ and more.

The technology and story behind the genesis of this example of situational Youtility is remarkable.

An Obvious Answer

Says co-creator Lea, “Me and Dan and Alan Reznick, who is also involved with the app, we were all on a bus together. I was running tech and they were both performing on this little tour around the East Coast….I guess Dan had seen the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies and he saw that they handed out LED bracelets and had them sync up. Dan’s idea was why did they bother going through the effort of handing out all of these little LEDs when everybody has, essentially, a little light in their pocket.”

Lea recalls that, as Deacon’s “nerdiest friends,” he and Reznick were asked about the feasibility of using smartphones in this way, which instigated weekly meetings to work on the project, which was more difficult than initially imagined.

“You’d think getting a bunch of pretty sophisticated little mini computers to do something all at once would be easy,” Lea said. “We first thought the obvious thing was to use WiFi…but we called a couple of networking contractors and just none of them had any ideas because of the need to get 500 to 1,000 people on a wireless network that needs to be torn down and put up every night.”

Simple Solution, Big Outcome

After abandoning WiFi as the syncing technology, the team considered using existing 3G and 4G cellular networks as a connection point but realized that access wasn’t universally strong at all show locations, and music festivals often feature overloaded cellular networks.

Digging deeper, they took an inventory of all the sensor arrays present across all smartphones and realized, “Oh, well every phone obviously has a microphone and a speaker,” remembers Lea, who used the neo-lithic days of dial-up Internet connections as inspiration. “Back in the 90’s we all got on the Internet through a phone connection, and it’s just audio that’s being used to transmit data.”

Deacon and team have no plans to charge for the application, and, while licensing the technology to other artists is certainly a possibility, this is one instance where Youtility isn’t about marketing and brand-building.

“Maybe this is a little trite, but it is pretty cool that a couple artists and a programmer got together, and for a really tiny budget came up with something that is transforming the way people look at their cell phones in this performance context,” Lea says.

Excerpted from the New York Times best sellerYoutility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype by Jay Baer. See YoutilityBook.com for other resources.

Youtility Excerpt:

Jay Baer Marketing Keynote SpeakerAbout the author:  is a hype-free social media and content strategist & speaker, and author of the New York Times best selling business book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype. Jay is the founder of http://convinceandconvert.com and host of the Social Pros podcast.

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